Farmers learn about latest in crop research underway in the Peace

The tour took place at the association's South Peace test site just outside of Dawson Creek off the Rolla Road, where research manager Clair Langlois and his staff have been testing varieties of canola, wheat, dry beans and much more. Langlois said the recent heavy rainfalls in the area have had a huge impact on the trials this year, especially on canola.

"As it is, canola no longer has its full potential for yield, and that's a shame, because we had a beautiful crop," he said. "As for the cereals, they're doing fantastic. Everything is taking advantage of the rain except for canola, which took a beating."

He said while the stunted growth of some varieties is not good out in the fields, it is actually not so bad for research in terms of collecting data on crop maturity.

"We're going to separate the men from the boys, as far as maturity goes. Everybody is going to find out what is too late for our area this year. We're going to be pushing our luck at the other end of the season this year."

He added he expects a wide spread in terms of the results for maturity this year compared to the last few years where that data remained fairly compressed.

He said the one major setback to the wet plots is they were unable to spray for weeds in many areas, so weeds had to be removed by hand, costing time and money.

Langlois said they are working with a company to test "prairie rice," a hairless, hulless oat with the potential to be a locally-grown substitute to oriental rice.

"We're testing that line here this year. I'm quite excited because if we get a few years in a row where it shows it is agronomically feasible here, there could very well be an opportunity for farmers to have a processing plant up here in the Peace. Thats a big pipe dream, but its not off-base."

He said it is a later-maturing crop, but in other trials some crops have been shown to adapt well to the shorter growing season in the Peace.

Langlois said his dry bean plots are looking promising this year, and they have eight varieties of peas being tested specifically for the region's growing conditions.

He added there are always incremental but important gains made every year in improving the maturity and yield of cereals and other crops.

"They used to say you can't grow an early wheat without suffering in yield, but not anymore. There are several lines out right now, and more coming, that are early and high-yielding."

Another exciting crop being tested is Camelina. Dr. Christina Eynck, a researcher working on a breeding program across Canada, was invited to speak to farmers about the potential of the oilseed. She said there has been a big push in North America in recent years to develop that potential.

"There is an increasing demand for plant-based substitutes to petroleum-based fuels and feedstocks because they are getting more expensive," she said. "Oilseed crops present a very good alternative, and Camelina especially."

Eynck said Camelina has been tested as a jet fuel and has been shown to be the best plant oil for that application. She added it can be used as a biodegradable lubricant, hydraulic fluid or motor oil for two-stroke engines. It also has a high nutritional value because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content, she said.

She said the hearty plant is suitable to grow in areas where other crops may not fare as well.

"You can grow it on marginal land, so Camelina as an industrial crop does not compete for arable land with food crops," said Eynck, adding that because it doesn't require near as much moisture or nitrogen to grow, it has been shown to be a good substitute in a regular crop rotation to summer fallow.

She said the plant's resistance to heat, drought and frost, and a relatively shorter growing season of 85-100 days, makes it ideal for the Peace region.

However, she said there are some setbacks researchers are trying to mitigate. She said the plant's smaller seeds make it harder to establish, and combining and seed cleaning can be difficult. She added chemical applications for weed control are currently very limited.

"There is a registered grass herbicide for Camelina, but it is not resistant to any broadleaf herbicides that have been tested so far, though we are working on that."

Still, Eynck said Camelina represents a great opportunity for farmers to diversify their rotations and access different markets than with canola.